Illini hold off Gophers, 72-67
Feb. 2, 2012
Champaign, Ill. - Illinois used a balanced attack with four players in double figures, but down the stretch, the Illini went to their go-to player to pull out a 72-67 victory over Minnesota. The win was the fifth straight for the Illini over the Gophers and seventh in the last nine meetings between the two teams. Illinois (8-15, 2-8 Big Ten) also won for the second time in its last three games.
With the game tied at 67-67 and the shot clock winding down, sophomore Alexis Burke found preseason All-Big Ten selection Karisma Penn, who went aggressively to the basket, scored, was fouled and converted the subsequent free throw to give the Illini the lead for good with 39 seconds remaining. Penn got a rebound on the defensive end and hit another free throw to help ice the game. Penn scored seven of her 13 points in the final seven minutes of the game, tallying 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal for the contest.
"I think that KP has been a little too unselfish at times," Illinois head coach Jolette Law said. "I told her in order for us to win, we needed to get the ball into her hands, which we did tonight."
While Penn took charge late, the win was a total team effort. The Illini bolted to a 33-23 halftime lead thanks in large part to the prowess of junior Adrienne GodBold on the both ends of the floor. GodBold finished with a team-high 18 points, scoring 11 of those in the first half, and made 8 of 9 shots from the floor. For the Chicago, Ill., native, it marked the third time in the last five games that she has scored at least 18 points.
In addition to sharing the basketball, the Illini have emphasized limiting turnovers and they did just that with just 11 on the night.
"That is all part of playing at a championship level," Law said. "We really focused on taking care of the basketball."
Minnesota (12-12 4-6), who was coming off a victory over No. 9 Ohio State on Sunday, has leaned heavily on 5-9 guard Rachel Banham, who has earned five Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. The Illini used at least four different players on Banham to try to limit her touches and held her to just five shots and four points in the first half.
While the first half was a defensive battle, both teams' offenses opened up in the second half. Illinois threated to run away with the game extending a 10-point halftime lead to 38-23 in the opening minute of play, but that's when Banham and Minnesota senior Kiara Buford began to heat up. Banham had 14-second half points, including eight straight, as Minnesota pulled to within 43-40. Buford, meanwhile, scored 13 points in each half en route to a game-high 26 points.
Minnesota shot 54.8 percent in the second half (17-31), but the Illini topped that by making 57.7 percent (15-26). Every time Minnesota tried to take control, a different Illinois player stepped up to make a big shot.
When Minnesota took its first lead of the second half at 53-52, McCully made a 15-footer from the wing. After Buford tied to the score at 57-57, Moore scored on the next possession. The Gophers went ahead 60-59 only to see Burke beat her defender to the basket to make the lead short-lived. Down 63-62 and the shot clock winding down, Penn found a streaking GodBold for a lay-up and the old-fashioned three-point play to again give the Illini the lead. In the end, Penn took it upon herself to secure the victory.
"We define MVP a little differently," Law said. "We called it `Many Valuable Players.' We had balanced scoring and a total team effort to get this victory."
Illinois tries to win two straight for the first time since early December when they travel to Purdue on Sunday. The Boilermakers lost a 93-89 thriller to Nebraska on Thursday night and will come into the contest tied for first place with the Cornhuskers.